Permitting regs could mean lights out for community fireworks shows
by MARIKO LAMB
Dec 15, 2010 | 1522 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Regional pyrotechnics displays,  like the annual Fourth of July fireworks show off the Ocean Beach Pier, could be at risk of being extinguished because of proposed regulations by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.   COURTESY PHOTO BY JOE EWING
Regional pyrotechnics displays, like the annual Fourth of July fireworks show off the Ocean Beach Pier, could be at risk of being extinguished because of proposed regulations by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. COURTESY PHOTO BY JOE EWING
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Costly permitting fees and water-monitoring requirements for over-water fireworks displays may put an end to annual community fireworks shows such as the Fourth of July display in La Jolla Cove, Ocean Beach’s fireworks off the pier and the “Big Bay Boom” in San Diego Bay, said Mayor Jerry Sanders in a press conference Dec. 10.

In an initial draft distributed by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) in September, fireworks show organizers would be required to have a national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit for any public display of fireworks over a body of water.

The fireworks permit requirement would be the first of its kind in the nation.

In order to obtain the permit, organizers of fireworks shows would be required to implement a so-called “best management practices” (BMP) plan to clean up post-show debris in the water and to submit an event cleanup report to the RWQCB.

The permit, based on the statewide fee for NPDES permits, would be less than $1,500 per year. However, Sanders and organizers of community fireworks shows estimate costs for the entire process to be much higher.

“These are community events where they literally put out a can in a lot of places and ask for donations, and it would probably cost about $30,000 to get the permit process and the monitoring,” said Sanders, who expressed fear that the costly permitting process would immediately extinguish community fireworks shows.

Although District 2 City Councilman Kevin Faulconer was unavailable for direct comment, he agrees the costs of added permitting could be prohibitive and detrimental to the communities he represents, said Tony Manolatos, a spokesman for Faulconer’s office. Faulconer’s district includes Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Mission Bay, among others.

In recent years, some organizers have been forced to cancel their community fireworks shows because of lawsuits or threats of legal action by environmental groups.

“Sometimes you get into a situation that’s kind of ridiculous because some people decide to push an issue and another side overreacts,” Sanders said, calling the regulations “like killing an ant with a sledgehammer.”

The San Diego RWQCB argues that fireworks contain pollutants that have the potential to adversely affect sediment and water quality.

Although the board’s staff said they do not believe fireworks are a major source of water pollution, they have determined that the pyrotechnics cause enough contamination to require need for a permit when exploded over water.

“It is not just the casings and the wires that can get into the water, but polluting chemicals too,” said RWQCB Assistant Executive Officer Jimmy Smith.

The most extensive water monitoring to date was conducted by SeaWorld after threat of a lawsuit by San Diego Coastkeeper in 2006. The studies found that an upwards of 110 fireworks shows per year for 30 years at the theme park have not caused an accumulation of pollutants in the bay’s water, sediment or shoreline.

“The evidence is just not there,” said District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner.

“It’s a huge yearly tradition in La Jolla, and it’s always been a volunteer-funded event. It would definitely be hard to come up with funding for anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000 for the water monitoring in the area,” she said.

The application and filing fee for the permit, based on the statewide fee for NPDES permits, would be less than $1,500 per year. However, many estimate costs for the entire permitting and water monitoring process to be much higher.

“It’s too soon to say,” Smith said. “The permit is still under development. We don’t’ know what the ultimate cost is going to be. Right now, we’re just trying to conduct the best science.”

Changes to the board’s original draft have been applied to incorporate past public concerns, particularly regarding the cost of the monitoring and the possibility that all fireworks shows would be disbanded in San Diego.

A public workshop will be held at the RWQCB headquarters, located at 9174 Sky Park Court today, Dec. 16 at 10 a.m., where staff will answer questions regarding details of the tentative order and address concerns about the process.

The board will consider adoption of the order at its regularly scheduled meeting on March 9, thereby affecting the fate of fireworks shows for Independence Day celebrations in July.
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